The Obameter

Ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies

"Will sign legislation that will ban the practice of racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal funding to state and local police departments if they adopt policies to prohibit the practice."


No racial profiling bill for President Barack Obama to sign

A bill to ban racial profiling never made it to President Barack Obama"s desk.

The White House didn't speak up in favor of the most recent versions in the House and Senate, according to Rights Working Group, which advocates for policies to prohibit racial profiling at the local, state and federal level.

"His White House has not actually taken an active role," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Rights Working Group.

The legislation, known as the End of Racial Profiling Act of 2011, didn't make it to a committee vote, though it did gain sponsors in both chambers, a move forward from our update in 2010.

Huang said the administration said it would wait to weigh in until the legislation hit the House or Senate floor.

The second question, whether the administration provided federal funding to state and local police departments if they adopted policies that prohibited the practice, is "complicated," Huang said.

What's more clear is that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice investigated local agencies for discriminating on the basis of race or national origin, such as the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona led by Joe Arpaio.

But Huang didn't hear of funding being jeopardized on the basis of such investigations, much less the opposite — support for agencies who performed well.

"So, it's a mixed record,” she said.

The White House didn't provide additional evidence.

Obama promised to sign legislation that will ban the practice of racial profiling. Such a bill never made it to his desk, and a key advocacy group says the White House didn't take an active role to get it there. Meanwhile, we don't see evidence of additional federal funding for agencies that adopted policies to prohibit the practice. We rate this Promise Broken.


Library of Congress' Thomas, S.B. 1670, "End of Racial Profiling Act of 2011," accessed Nov. 7, 2012

Library of Congress' Thomas, H.R. 3618, "End of Racial Profiling Act of 2011," accessed Nov. 7, 2012

Rights Working Group, "Racial Profiling: Face the Truth," accessed Nov. 6, 2012

Rights Working Group, "Racial Profiling Resources," Nov. 12, 2010

Interview with Margaret Huang, executive director, Rights Working Group, Nov. 6, 2012

Email interview with Matt Lehrich, White House press office, Nov. 8-9, 2012

Department of Justice, "Justice Department Settles Lawsuit with Maricopa County Sheriff"s Office Settlement Comes After the Sheriff"s Office Provided Information Sought in Title VI Investigation,” June 2011

Ban on racial profiling awaits action

As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama sponsored and helped pass a law to end racial profiling in that state. As a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored legislation to ban the practice by federal agencies, and as a candidate for president he pledged to sign such a bill into law.

That bill just hasn't made it to his desk.

Liberal Democrats in Congress, led in the House by Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers of Michigan and in the Senate by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, have been trying to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, or ERPA, since 2001. The most recent iteration, however, was filed in 2007, and there is no active legislation now before Congress.

Past versions of the bill would prohibit federal agencies from using racial profiling; allow people to sue if they suffer damages because they were profiled; and tie federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to their development of anti-profiling procedures.

Presumably, any new ERPA bill would feature the same basic tenents, and signing it would fulfill Obama's campaign promise. The White House still lists banning racial profiling among its priorties for civil rights, but its status in Congress is a little fuzzy. The American Bar Association sent Conyers a letter on Dec. 1 lauding him for introducing the End Racial Profiling Act of 2009 and promising its support, but after an extensive search of, congressional Web sites and advocacy groups, it does not appear that the bill has actually been filed.

In a Dec. 7, 2009, guest column in the Baltimore Sun , two ERPA advocates -- NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and Margaret Huang, executive director of the Rights Working Group -- write that 40 members of Congress are expected to reintroduce a version of the bill soon. Calls and e-mails to Feingold's and Conyers' offices for clarification have not been returned.

With no bill apparently active, and with congressional passage certainly not imminent, we find this Obama campaign promise Stalled.


White House priorities for civil rights .

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., fact sheet on the Ending Racial Profiling Act of 2007.

Guest column on ERPA by Benjamin Todd Jealous and Margaret Huang in the Baltimore Sun.

Letter from the American Bar Association supporting ERPA.

Testimony of Melanca D. Clark, counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law on state efforts to ban racial profiling.